On a Saturday morning in April, a group of us drove West from Toronto to St Jacobs Market, the largest year-round farmer’s market in Canada.
I knew about the history of Mennonites in the area of Waterloo / St Jacobs, but was amazed by how many were at the market. It was a very cold day, so we did not spend too much time outside – most of the marketplace was inside, so this worked well for us.
The produce was clearly of very high quality, with a lot being sold in bulk. I liked the look of some apples and enquired with the stallholder how the apples were being sold (e.g. I thought it may be per 100g). He advised it was by the basket and the baskets contained about 30! Not really my kind of purchase…. so I stuck to the German bread and sweets that I came across, instead. There were also a lot of quilts – quilts galore! I was so tempted because the handiwork was impeccable. $200 for a quilt made by a Mennonite isn’t on my list of ‘needs’ at the moment, though, so shall have to wait for another time.
We were there on a day that there was a horse auction. I have been told by a friend that the Mennonites use ex-racehorses to pull their buggies and for farm work. We watched the auction for a short period. We were surrounded by Mennonites and on the occasions I pulled my phone out to take photos/videos, the young girl in front of me (perhaps 6 years old) looked up at me with her big blue eyes and stared at the phone. It took me a little while to realise that she may well have never seen one before. I wanted to talk to her but wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. Their local dialect is German, so that would have potentially been another challenge and confused the poor girl (I seem only to be able to remember sentences like ‘I have a stomach ache’ in German, so this wouldn’t have really helped)!
The Mennonite men, women and children all dressed very similarly. Their clothing was basic and they all had some form of head covering. Their appearance was plain and they had ruddy cheeks – the kind of look you would expect from someone in a cold climate. I found them so intriguing and I couldn’t help but stare, at times!
After walking around the market for a few hours we went and grabbed a bit to eat, then looked in the antiques centre, which was HUGE! There was something for everyone including old vinyl covers/advertisements (these appealed to my friends greatly, but were not my cup of tea), antique furniture, books, jewellery and anything else you could think of… including some terrifying gas masks!
- St Jacobs Farmers’ Market is a farmer’s market and flea market which runs year-round;
- It is the largest year-round farmer’s market in Canada, and is a popular destination for residents of the town and nearby communities, as well as tourists from Canada, the United States, and Europe;
- It draws about 1 million visitors annually;e
- The market was established in April 1975 by eight farmers, including Jim Wideman, Jacob Shantz, Ross Shantz, and Milo Shantz; the Shantz families then managed the facility for over forty years;
- Originally, the owners merged a three-owner stockyard based in Waterloo with a five-owner stockyard based in Kitchener;
- Originally “just tents outside on the pavement”.
- In 1986, a two-storey 24,000-square-foot (2,200 m2) heavy timber building was constructed on the site, the frame of which used 12″x12″ Douglas fir beams from British Columbia;
- Managed by the Shantz family since 1985;
- In late November 2017, the business was sold by the Mercedes Corp. which consisted of 40 shareholders including the Shantz families;
- This company sold not only the market but also the nearby antique operation, the outlet mall and the property housing the TSC store;
- The new owner is Schlegel Urban Developments. The deal was expected to close in early 2018;
- James Schlegel, president and CEO of Schlegel Urban Development, said that the operation would continue as usual although he hoped to make some improvements in the long run;
- Main building of the market was destroyed by a fire on 2 September 2013;
- Forty-five firefighters from four stations were required to extinguish the fire;
- No people or livestock were harmed;
- $2million of damage caused;
- Luckliy, no other buildings on the site were damaged because of the direction the wind was blowing;
- Market re-opened on 11 June 2015 in a restored and expanded $5 million facility;
- The township fast-tracked the building site plans and permits due to the enormity of the impact – many locals were impacted and the economic effect on the community would be immense;
- A large amount of the salvaged wood from the original building is being resold by an artist in nearby Guelph, who sells handmade furniture and other goods;
- In peak season, 400 vendors are housed in the main building;
St Jacobs, Ontario
- The two settlements near St. Jacobs were Conestoga and Winterbourne;
- The latter was settled primarily by English and Scots while St. Jacobs, like Conestoga, was primarily Germanic;
- This area on the Conestogo River was settled starting in 1830. ;
- Early arrivals included the Simon Cress family, Abraham Erb, and John B. Baumann (or Bauman).
- Significant influx early 1850s. Most of the settlers were Mennonites from Pennsylvania, so-called Pennsylvania Dutch. The word “Dutch” does not refer to the Netherlands but is a misnomer for Deitsch or Deutsch (German). They became known as “Old Order” Mennonites due to their conservative lifestyle. (Other Mennonites in the area have a less conservative lifestyle.)  School lessons, even in 1860 was were taught entirely in the local dialect of German;
- Valentine Ratz built the first sawmill to the west of the village in 1844 and the first school, in a log house, was founded in the same year;
- Jacob C. Snider, of Swiss German descent, built a sawmill, a flour-mill and a woollen-mill by 1852, after having built a dam;
- These features helped to attract others to the small community;
- When the settlement became a village, it was named Jakobstettel (Jacob’s Village) in honour of Snider;
- The St. was added to the name Jacob simply to make it sound more pleasing; the pluralization was in honour of the combined efforts of Jacob C. Snider (1791–1865) and his son, Jacob C. Snider, Jr. (1822–1857). The younger Jacob lost his life in the Desjardins Canaltrain disaster at age 35.
- In 1871, E.W.B. Snider bought the flour mill and promoted hydro electricity and other milling operations. The river helped power mills and a woollen factory and a tannery; by then, the school had 66 students. There was only a single church, (Evangelical Association) built in 1850.[22